The reminders are everywhere. And even if they weren’t, there will be people there to remind him anyway.
Ryan Bragdon is coming home with a big job to do.
The Central Valley graduate is the new girls basketball coach at his alma mater, taking over for Freddie Rehkow, who stepped down after 21 seasons as a head coach and being named the 2017-18 National High School Girls Basketball Coach of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association.
Yes, he knows he has some big shoes to fill. In fact, he’s well aware of just exactly how big those shoes are.
There are the ones in the CV trophy case – two state championships in three seasons, three straight undefeated seasons.
There’s the record – the Bears were 81-1 over the past three seasons.
And there’s the GEICO High School Nationals championship tournament trophy the team won by beating Hamilton Heights Christian from Tennessee. And the No. 1 ranking from MaxPreps after the season.
It would be safe to say that no girls basketball head coach opening in the nation this summer comes with this kind of pressure, expectation and history.
“I’ve been hearing a lot about that,” Bragdon said. “But I know about the program. My sister played for Freddie after I graduated. I know the culture Freddie has cultivated here, and Dale Poffenroth before him.
“This has always been a well-run program, and it’s the standard for girls basketball here in the area. That says something about the work ethic and the culture that’s been created. My job is to keep it going.”
Bragdon knows firsthand the culture that Central Valley has created over the years since Poffenroth arrived and led the Lady Bears to their first three state championships.
And he appreciates the coaching tree he looks to extend – Poffenroth’s assistant coach, Judy Walters, led the team for a season before another former assistant, Rehkow, returned to CV after a season coaching East Valley.
Bragdon himself played for Rick Sloan, who stepped down as boys basketball coach after this past season. Newly named head coach Mike Laws was his junior varsity coach.
All three are Central Valley grads.
“It’s interesting that I played for Mike and now we’re colleagues,” he said. “It helps there’s a strong sense of continuity here. I’ve already had a good, long conversation with Freddie about what he did and how he did it. And I made sure to tell him that it was just the first of many such conversations we’ll be having.”
Walters is now retired and moved to Arizona, Bragdon said. But that distance won’t stop him from reaching out for insights on the program and his team.
“You talk about someone who knows this program inside and out – that’s her,” he said.
Bragdon brings a unique mix to his first assignment as a high school girls basketball coach, and he’s far from overwhelmed at the prospect of leading CV into its next chapter.
The once and future Bear will be particularly adept at teaching his players what they will need to succeed at the next level by the simple fact that he has coached at that level.
Bragdon most recently was the head women’s basketball coach at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, where he was 30-41. He was let go in February 2016 when a new athletic director was hired.
Before that he spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Illinois State, helping the Redbirds to two straight second-round appearances in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. Prior to that, he spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Ohio University and seven in the same role at Western Michigan, where he helped lead the Broncos to a Mid-America Conference tournament championship, an NCAA Tournament appearance and a trip to the quarterfinals of the WNIT.
In 2012, Bragdon was named one of CollegeInsider.com’s “Top 25 Mid-Major Women’s College Basketball Assistants.”
Bragdon was released from his contract by Northwest Nazarene in February 2016, with the Crusaders 8-10 overall and 6-6 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference playoff chase.
The NCAA Division II school brought in a whole new administration, Bragdon explained.
“There wasn’t anything exciting about it,” he said. “We just had philosophical differences about where we wanted the program to go.”
At the time, Northwest Nazarene stressed that the coaching change was not disciplinary and that the administration wanted to go in a different direction, the Idaho Press-Tribune reported.
The CV job marks a return to a familiar color scheme. After being a Nighthawk (black and red), a Redbird (white and red), a Bobcat (green and black) and a Bronco (brown and gold), he is once again a Bear in Columbia blue and white.
But the concepts behind those colors remain constant.
“At the college level, it’s all about cultivating a culture of success,” Bragdon said. “Talent is critical, obviously. But having a strong culture can overcome a lack of talent sometimes. Ideally you have both.
“When you step into a program like this, it’s always bigger than the individual. It’s about maintaining the tradition and keeping the success moving forward. And there’s always pressure to keep that working.”
Bragdon said he will focus on maintaining the program’s reach into the middle schools and youth programs. He sees his position as a basketball ambassador to the next generation. And the generation after that.
“I want the entire area to experience good, solid basketball,” he said. “It’s just something that I’ve seen from the college level, looking back. I want basketball to be better – I want all levels to get better.”
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